On Monday, Apple Inc. unveiled OS X Yosemite, the newest Mac operating platform, to a crowd of excited developers. And while iPhone users might be more excited about the prospect of removing themselves from obnoxious group threads orcalling people directly from their MacBooks, Apple CEO Tim Cook presented an app with bigger implications: Healthkit, which promises to revolutionize how we track our own health.
Healthkit, which will show up in the fall on iPhone home screens simply as “Health,” will bring together health data that is already being collected by increasingly popular apps from companies like Fitbit and Nike. So rather than having health information strewn across various apps, which Senior VP Craig Federighi compared to different “silos,” Healthkit puts gathered health metrics like heart rate, weight, hours of sleep, and fitness level all in one place.
Healthkit will also allow health apps to share data, so for example, Nike’s app could use metrics like sleep and nutrition to better determine goals.
But here’s the crazy part: let’s say you regularly take your blood pressure using a device attached to an iPhone, and one day your result is higher than usual. The Health app would not only give you recommended steps to lower your blood pressure; it would also be able to automatically notify your doctor.
CREDIT: MAYO CLINIC
For this component, Apple worked with app developers at the Mayo Clinic, whose CEO Dr. John Noseworthy said Healthkit will “revolutionize how the health industry interacts with people.” The end result? “More timely care,” according to Federighi.
Healthkit comes during a wave in the mHealth industry, which uses mobile devices to improve health care delivery. Last year, there were over 13,000 health and fitness apps available, and almost 20 percent of smartphone users downloaded at least one of them. By 2015, some estimate that number will reach 30 percent.
With a fourth of doctors recommending the apps and 35 percent of people saying health monitoring will lengthen their life, mHealth apps seem here to stay. After all, the apps can lower hospital costs and increase access to care and health information, especially for those without insurance who don’t normally go to a doctor for check-ups.
But here’s the problem with Healthkit and other mHealth apps: as technology extends its reach into our lives, we could start relying more and more on apps as a stand-in for checkups. More and more Americans are looking up health symptoms online to diagnose themselves with a medical condition, with around 18 percent arriving at a condition only to have medical professionals later disagree. The issue? Half of online diagnosers don’t follow up with a medical professional — and information from the Web or from smartphone apps can be wildly inaccurate.
Just last week, researchers found that 9 of the 10 Wikipedia entries for the most costly health conditions in the country had incorrect information. And one study last year found that an app claiming to detect skin cancer was only right 6.8 percent of the time.
In a PWC study, 42 percent of doctors reported that they worry mHealth apps may make patients too independent. Health apps are particularly popular among young adults ages 18 through 29, the same age group that is less likely to trust other people but more likely to trust the Internet.
Abigail Bessler is an intern for ThinkProgress.